IT'S decision time for would-be university students who must lodge their final course preferences with the Universities Admissions Centre by midnight on Friday.
For those whose minds are made up there is nothing to do. A select few students, like Beryl Lim, have to choose between exclusive clashing parties and which university's $10,000 a year smells better. For the rest, there's a potentially gruelling day on the road or rails on Thursday, when the universities compete with last-chance information days to woo prospective students.
With the highest possible ATAR of 99.95 Ms Lim, from James Ruse Agricultural High School, is invited to a ''High Achievers Reception'' at the University of NSW at 10.45 on Thursday morning but also a high achiever's lunch at Sydney University on the same day. She'd be cutting it fine to make both, but happily Sydney also puts on an ''exclusive high tea'' with the vice-chancellor and deans at 3pm, which she plans to attend.
Both universities provide $10,000 a year scholarships for the best students: those with an ATAR of 99.9 or above in the case of the University of NSW, or 99.95 or over for Sydney University.
Ms Lim plans to do medicine. So far she favours the University of NSW on the grounds that she'd get into the medical nitty gritty sooner because it's an undergraduate rather than a graduate degree as at Sydney. On top of that ''I know the social life and cultural life is really vibrant at NSW'', Ms Lim said, because her brother is already doing medicine there.
Those undecided between, say, Macquarie University at North Ryde and the University of Western Sydney at Penrith, and who want to attend information seminars at each, face a trip of 51 kilometres door to door as the crow flies, involving at least three buses and a train and at least one hour 35 minutes' travel, according to the NSW TransportInfo website.
Brett Smout, the director of student services at the University of Technology, Sydney, urged students to attend information days. It would help to talk to knowledgeable people including current students about the courses, about ''what is on offer and the structure of it and how to get prepared in advance'', he said.
Students should remember that even if they got to university and realised they'd chosen the wrong course, the census date in the first semester was an opportunity to change without failing or incurring HECS charges, said Kerri-Lee Krause, University of Western Sydney pro-vice chancellor (education) . ''My advice to students is, during those early few weeks don't be afraid to ask questions and change your mind. There is nothing worse than staying and wishing you had made your decision earlier, then dropping out and having to pay, and feeling embarrassed at having failed,'' Professor Krause said.